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4 years ago

Bentley still weighing tax proposal, hopes legislators remember whose coattails they rode into power

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After securing a landslide re-election victory, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley went from running on a “no new tax” campaign platform to declaring that “everything is one the table” — including higher taxes — when it comes to patching the $260+ million hole in Alabama’s General Fund Budget.

“We’re going to be raising revenue,” he said recently. “Our goal is to raise revenue. We have to raise some revenue.”

But now, on the eve of his second inauguration, Bentley is prepared to take at least one of his tax increase options off the table. He told Fox 10’s Bob Grip on Sunday that he “doubts” he will push to revoke Alabamians’ ability to deduct the amount they pay in federal income taxes from their state income taxes.

“We have talked about that in the past.” he said. “(T)hat would cost a lot of people a lot of money. It really would be a fairly sizable tax increase and I doubt that I will add that one.”

Bentley had previously floated that idea along with the possibility of eliminating the deduction for FICA payments — the 7.65 percent from employees’ paychecks that goes toward Social Security and Medicare.

According to Legislative Fiscal Office calculations cited by the Birmingham News, eliminating those two deductions could bring in an additional $694 million annually, but the concept was met with a firm “no” from House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who said that eliminating the federal income tax deduction “would basically require individuals to pay state taxes on their federal taxes, which is money they never even received.”

The tension between the Legislature and the Governor’s office over the possibility of raising taxes — or “revenue” as the administration has often referred to it — began with a speech Bentley delivered during the Legislature’s new member orientation.

Bentley urged legislators to follow his lead, noting that he would not have to face re-election again. “Don’t cower away from the difficult things we’ve got to face,” he said.

Lawmakers expressed optimism that the moment to find a longterm solution to the state’s budget woes may have finally come, but were dismayed at the prospect of raising taxes because they, unlike Bentley, will have to face the voters again in four years.

They were particular concerned about being asked to raise taxes in 2015 after having just declared 2014 the “Year of Taxpayer Relief.”

With bills such as the Small Business Tax Relief Act, the Business Tax Streamlining Act, the Tax Elimination Act and the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, 67 percent of the bills on the 2014 Alabama House agenda were either a tax credit, a tax cut or an attempt to otherwise ease the tax burden on individuals and small businesses.

Realizing that some of the proposals he’s been floating recently will be a tough sell to an increasingly conservative Legislature, Bentley told the Birmingham News he’s got his sales pitch ready. He said that he doesn’t expect them to vote against their districts, but hopes they’ll remember whose coattails they road into power.

“I (helped) some of our Republicans win and I am counting on them to remember that and help me do those things we need to do to address the problems we need to address,” he said.

AL.com has mentioned several times (most recently in the article linked directly above) that “Bentley donated $500,000 of his own money to the state Republican Party in the closing weeks of the campaign to help elect Republicans who he now hopes will remember his role in their wins.”

But Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said the Governor opted instead to spend the money through his own campaign, rather than donating it to the Party.

“The financial disclosure statements filed by the Governor and the Alabama Republican Party will show that the Governor didn’t give $500,000 to the Alabama Republican Party,” he said. “Early in the election cycle, I did discuss with the Governor the Party’s need to raise money for our GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort and he told me that he planned to spend $500,000 from his own campaign funds to turn out the vote. He said the expenditure would be to purchase TV commercials for his re-election campaign which he believed would turn out the Republican vote.”

The argument could be made that Bentley’s presence at the top of the ticket swung some of the closest races, especially as he stood in contrast to Democrat Parker Griffith, whose campaign was marred by missteps.

But even if some members find his argument compelling, the governor will likely have a difficult time winning support for his proposals as he moves to the left while Republican victories in November resulted in the most conservative Legislature in the state’s history.


5 mins ago

Dem state senator’s son arrested on domestic violence charge

Akil Michael Figures, son of Alabama state Senator Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), has been arrested on a domestic violence charge, per Fox 10.

The 36-year-old Figures was reportedly charged with third-degree domestic violence (menacing), and this is by no means his first run in with the law in Alabama. He has an extensive rap sheet, including drug charges, giving false information and various traffic offenses.

In June, Figures made headlines when he was shot in the leg in Foley. Authorities then said a man shot Figures twice in the leg at a home in the Baldwin County city.

On Tuesday morning, he was booked into Mobile County Metro Jail just after midnight and then released on bail a short time later.

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Additional court records show that a woman, who Figures previously dated, filed near the end of August for protection from the alleged abuse. She was granted this protection until February. Figures has denied the abuse claims and asked for a hearing on the request for protection.

Per the Lagniappe in Mobile, Figures pleaded guilty in 2006 to a single charge of “possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine” after federal prosecutors agreed to a deal dropping a similar charge related to the distribution of ecstasy.

After being sentenced to five years in jail and eight years of probation for that distribution plea, lawyers representing Figures in 2016 asked for probation period to be cut in half, saying the man had kept an “unblemished” record and “regained the trust and confidence of his family.”

The attorneys’ request in 2016 did stipulate that Figures had received a “technical infraction” of his probation “for sending a text message after being ordered to refrain from any further communication with a woman with whom he had a relationship.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

53 mins ago

Walt Maddox finally has a plan for Medicaid expansion and it’s pretty bad

Alabama Democrats love bad ideas.

They also have no clue how to pay for these terrible ideas, even though some have tried to figure it out, bless their hearts.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Walt Maddox has been pushing the media-friendly idea that if we would just expand Medicaid. all would be well, unfortunately, he knows almost nothing about the program.

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As Yellowhammer News exposed yesterday, Talk 99.5’s Matt Murphy embarrassed Maddox on the issue:

MADDOX: There are 33 states that have gone along with the expansion of Medicaid. There are six more that are considering it.

MURPHY: You know how much the state budget for Medicaid is right now?

MADDOX: Not offhand —

MURPHY: It’s about a quarter, a quarter of the total budget. Twenty-four percent of the total budget is Medicare and that is expected to over the next decade go up to as much as 35 percent of the total state budget and I’m wondering how we stop that.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he also has no idea how to pay for the program.

MADDOX: You take a combination of taxing the existing gambling that is here and sports gambling. And that will be what you put in your general fund as your offset to it.

The problem is this doesn’t even come close to actually covering the cost of his idea.

If he is capable of getting the legislature to allow existing gambling to be taxed, liberal columnist Josh Moon speculates it would only bring in $15 million.

If he is capable of getting the legislature to pass a sports gambling bill, we can look to Mississippi and see that they are projecting that they will collect $30 million in taxes. Granted, Mississippi is about 60 percent of the size of Alabama, so if we play with the math that puts Alabama at about $50 million a year in revenue.

Play with the math any way you want, but the guy proposing these measures is clearly out of his depth. Clearly, Maddox has no real clue what the numbers are and we still aren’t anywhere near the $150-$200 million that he acknowledges his proposal will cost.

This remains a media favorite talking point with no substance. It’s time for Walt Maddox and his campaign to figure out how to pay for his proposal.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

2 hours ago

Huntsville City Council candidate’s ties to Bernie Sanders revealed in ad — ‘Few things are scarier than socialism’

On Monday, Dr. Mary Jane Caylor’s campaign for Huntsville City Council released a creative new social media ad that invoked her opponent’s ties to socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

With Halloween on the horizon, Caylor hit her opponent, Frances Akridge, with the tagline “few things are scarier than socialism… Especially in our local government.”

Akridge, the ad says, has donated to liberal campaigns across the country, including Bernie Sanders for President, Rick Nolan for Congress (Minnesota), Katie McGinty for Senate (Pennsylvania), Nelson for Congress (Wisconsin), Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General (New York), Nanette Diaz Barragán for Congress (California), Deborah Ross for Senate (North Carolina), Chase Irons for Congress (North Dakota), Maggie Hassan for Senate (New Hampshire), Paul Clements for Congress (Texas), Morgan Carroll for Congress (Colorado), Russ Feingold for Congress (Wisconsin) and Pramila Jayapal for Congress (Washington).

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While local races are normally less partisan than statewide or national races, Caylor’s campaign tied Akridge’s “ultra-left” activities to the local level, saying that Huntsville would be hurt by socialist City Council policies.

“Imagine how much of your money Frances Akridge will want to tax and spend… We cannot afford to let Frances Akridge traffic in her big-government values to our City Hall,” the social media caption reads.

It continues, “Huntsville’s bright future demands fiscal responsibility and a budget that is overseen by an experienced, conservative leader. We need the conservative, proven, and principled leadership of Dr. Mary Jane Caylor.”

Caylor has an extensive resume of public service, including past experience as superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, executive director of the Huntsville Bicentennial, member of the Base Realignment and Closure recruitment team and a four-term member of the Alabama State Board of Education. She was also crucial to the establishment of the Veteran’s Memorial in downtown Huntsville.

On her website, Caylor lists education, infrastructure, community safety, supporting first responders and being a good steward of taxpayer money as top issues. Akridge names community recreation, “maintenance & enhancement” and health along with safety and education.

In response to Caylor’s ad, Akridge shared a Facebook post that read, “Huntsville municipal elections are SUPPOSED TO BE nonpartisan. And now we have this crap.” The post did not dispute any of the ties to socialist or liberal candidates or that Akridge would govern as a socialist on the city council.

According to Caylor’s campaign, in the October 9 Huntsville City Council District 2 election, “the choice is clear: Socialist Frances Akridge or Conservative Mary Jane Caylor.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Maddox kicks off bus tour in Alabama governor’s race

Gubernatorial challenger Walt Maddox kicked off a statewide bus tour Monday, taking his message on the road as he seeks to gain ground against incumbent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

The Democratic nominee began the tour in Tuscaloosa where he is mayor.

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Describing himself as the only candidate in the race talking about the state’s “big problems,” Maddox is running on a platform of establishing a state lottery to fund education programs and expanding Medicaid.

Standing with his wife, Stephanie and his two children, Maddox said the race is about ensuring the state’s children have opportunities.

“Our state is not where it needs to be. We are at, or near, the bottom in everything that matters, everything,” Maddox said. “And they deserve to grow up in a state that can provide them the opportunities that I’ve had, that your families have had.”

Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1998 when Don Siegelman won after campaigning on a lottery that voters later rejected.

To win, Maddox will need support from some Republicans and independents, similarly to U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and his victory over Roy Moore last year.

Maddox said he thinks he can do that by talking about the issues that affect people’s lives.

He joked he won his first convert in 2010 with his wedding to wife Stephanie, who is a Republican.

Maddox said he hopes to speak with all sorts of voters during the tour, including those “who may or may not vote for you. … But that doesn’t matter because when you put your hand on that Bible, you represent everyone.”

Maddox is proposing a state lottery to fund college scholarships and other education programs.

He said expanding Medicaid, as 34 states have done, could stop the closure of rural hospitals, which have been shuttering in rural communities due to financial pressures.

“If you are in Haleyville, Alabama right now you’ve had to experience an increase in taxes because your hospital is on the verge of closing.

If you are in Alex City right now, your hospital could close. All because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”

Maddox also continued to take jabs at Ivey for refusing to debate him.

The Republican incumbent said last week that there was no need for a debate because “Alabamians know my record. They know what I stand for.”

“One thing Governor Ivey can’t avoid is the Nov. 6 election,” Maddox said. “The people will ultimately determine this with their ballot. It doesn’t hurt me that she doesn’t want to debate. It hurts the people of Alabama.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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5 hours ago

Federal lawyers say 14-year-old oil leak is getting worse in Gulf of Mexico

Federal government lawyers say a 14-year-old leak is releasing much more oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico than officials previously claimed, and it may be getting worse.

A Friday court filing in a case involving Taylor Energy Co. says 10,000 to 30,000 gallons (37,000 to 113,000 liters) daily is leaking from multiple wells around a drilling platform toppled by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.

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That estimate is far above the 16,000 gallons (60,500 liters) of oil that the U.S. Coast Guard estimated in 2015 had been spotted in slicks over seven months.

The government cites a report it commissioned from a scientist who has studied satellite images of persistent oil slicks and sampled floating oil at the site about 10 miles (16 kilometers) offshore.

That report also suggests that while the amount of leaking oil decreased after some wells were plugged in 2011, the leak may be getting bigger again.

“There has been an uptrend of the areas of the slick during the last two years,” wrote Oscar Pineda-Garcia, who runs a company that maps oil spills and is an adjunct professor at Florida State University.

New Orleans-based Taylor said only two to three gallons was leaking daily out of mud on the seafloor.

Spokesman Todd Ragusa said the company disputes the government’s new estimate and will respond in court.

“The government’s recent filing is completely contrary to the comprehensive, sound science acquired by world-renowned experts, including those regularly relied upon by the government,” Ragusa wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

A 2015 AP investigation revealed evidence that the leak was worse than the company, or government, had publicly reported during their secretive response.

Presented with AP’s findings that year, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that was about 20 times larger than one cited by the company in a 2015 court filing.

Friday’s court filing also says Taylor and the Coast Guard met in August and discussed plugging more wells as part of an effort to eliminate the persistent oil sheen seen at the site.

The wellheads are more than 400 feet (120 meters) underwater and buried under 60 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) of mud.

Taylor sued the government in January 2016 to recover millions of dollars it set aside for work to end the leak.

The suit claims regulators violated a 2008 agreement requiring the company to deposit approximately $666 million in a trust to pay for leak response work.

The company argued the government must return the remaining $423 million.

The government’s lawyers disagree, though, saying no change to the agreement has been made and the money should remain on deposit until the work is done.

“The trust requires — and has always required — that Taylor complete all of its decommissioning obligations before the trust can terminate.

The United States’ denial of Taylor’s request for a release from its existing obligations does not constitute an imposition of a new obligation,” the lawyers wrote.

Waves whipped up by Ivan triggered an underwater mudslide that buried a cluster of oil wells under treacherous mounds of sediment.

In 2011, the company finished drilling a series of “intervention wells” to plug nine of the wells.

Using Coast Guard pollution reports, West Virginia-based watchdog group SkyTruth estimated in December that between roughly 855,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) and nearly 4 million gallons (15.1 million liters) of oil spilled from the site between 2004 and 2017.

Garcia writes in his report that the oil is thick enough that people need to wear respirators because of fumes.

He says bubbles of not just oil, but natural gas is reaching the surface, while his report shows pictures of thick, brown oil emulsions in some places.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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